Home Secretary Priti Patel is back in headlines this week after new talks around the asylum system. Patel has been pulled up on her not-so-pretty language and behaviour before (the bullying scandal continues…) and this week is no different, as people criticise the “dangerous” way she degrades asylum seekers. By Sadia Nowshin.
What’s being proposed?
Over the weekend, Patel promised to deliver the “biggest overhaul of our asylum system in decades”, calling the current process “broken”. The proposed legislation would be put into motion next year.
The changes would introduce a new asylum system that allowed refugees through “safe and legal routes” and stopped those who arrived illegally “making endless legal claims to remain”. They would also expedite the removal of people who are ruled to have “no claim for protection”.
Take that, Twitter.
Determined to make it super clear that she definitely didn’t care what Twitter would have to say, Patel spent a good few minutes explaining exactly how much she didn’t care.
Defending her proposed new legislation, she anticipated that people would come back with “grand theories about human rights”, but that she would “bear it” even “if at times it means being unpopular on Twitter”. Why would she stick to her guns against the Twitter criticism, you ask? Well, apparently because “as Conservatives, we do not measure the depth of our compassion in two hundred and eighty characters on Twitter, but in the actions we take and the choices we make”.
An honourable sentiment indeed. Unfortunately, some would say the “actions” and “choices” being made by Patel and her party are far from compassionate…
The blame game
Patel attacked those who defended the current system, showing some real range in the groups she chose to target: she accused “the traffickers, the do-gooders, the leftie lawyers, the Labour Party” of “defending the indefensible”.
Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds hit back with “the Tories talk about a broken immigration system, but they have been in power for a decade and are the political party that broke it”. He highlighted recent “unconscionable, absurd proposals about floating walls and creating waves in the English Channel to push back boats and sending people thousands of miles away to process claims”, suggesting recent rhetoric around asylum seekers pushed by the Conservatives showed they are “devoid of compassion and competence.”
“Leftie lawyers” speak out
The “leftie lawyers” Patel lambasts in the same group as human traffickers have spoken out about the consequences of her harsh words. Asylum and immigration lawyers, who Patel has previously referred to as “activist lawyers”, told The Guardian that the increasingly hostile rhetoric she is pushing “risks leading not just to verbal abuse but to lawyers being physically attacked for doing their job”. The language she is using, they said, also “undermines a legal system which has evolved over many centuries, which helps ensure that power is not abused”.
Some lawyers even pointed out patterns between Priti’s behaviour and that of authoritarian states: Stephanie Harrison QC suggested that “Targeting human rights lawyers is what you see in patterns of abusive behaviour by states around the world” and that her behaviour is happening “in a climate of extreme xenophobia”.
Let’s regroup and fact check.
It’s fair to say there’s a lot of exaggeration and uncertainty when it comes to the topic of the asylum system, and Patel has been pulled up before for inaccuracies and sensationalising to get the public on her side.
Andy Hewett, head of advocacy at the Refugee Council, agreed that the current system was in need of improvement. However, he highlighted that it was wrong for Patel to say it was illegal for asylum seekers to arrive in small boats – they’d like to discourage people from taking the dangerous journey if possible, but the legality of the route is protected by the UN Refugee Convention.
Back in August, Michael also did a breakdown of the main “inconvenient truths and convenient lies” surrounding the system, which you can read here.